Saddam Has the Will to Avoid the War, Says Papal Envoy

Cardinal Etchegaray Hopes Visit Helps Dispel «Black Clouds» over Iraq

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BAGHDAD, Iraq, FEB. 16, 2003 (ZENIT.orgAvvenire).- Cardinal Roger Etchegaray believes that his one-and-a-half hour meeting on Saturday with Saddam Hussein helped to open new possibilities for peace in Iraq.

«I believe that this visit may contribute to lift somewhat the black clouds that have gathered over Iraq’s sky. I think I have done everything I could as messenger of the Pope and witness of his action of peace,» the cardinal said at the apostolic nunciature here.

Q: What impression do you have from your meeting with one of the most unapproachable, mysterious and feared politicians of the world? What meaning do you attribute to your visit?

Cardinal Etchegaray: The Iraqi president, as is known, grants very few interviews. The fact that he received me for an hour and a half is, therefore, a sign of recognition of the moral authority of the Pope.

Saddam Hussein seemed happy to receive the personal message that John Paul II had given me. He seemed to be a man in good health, seriously aware of the responsibilities he must address before his people. I was convinced that Saddam Hussein today has the will to avoid the war.

Q: What is the meaning of your visit? Is there a Vatican mediation that could somehow divert the conflict?

Cardinal Etchegaray: I can understand the great expectations that a meeting of such importance would arouse, but the spiritual nature of my mission gave my words a particular tone.

The Church has its own way of speaking about peace, about making peace, in the midst of those who, with a different right, work for it today with such tenacity. I would like to recall, quoting John Paul II, that the Church becomes the spokesman of the «moral conscience of humanity that desires peace, that needs peace.»

Q: Can you summarize for us the meaning of the meeting you had with Saddam Hussein?

Cardinal Etchegaray: We addressed, of course, some concrete questions that I cannot mention out of respect for the one who sent me and for the one who receives me. It was an effort to see if everything possible had been done to guarantee peace, re-establishing a climate of confidence that will allow Iraq to find its place again in the international community.

Present at the heart of our meeting was the whole Iraqi people, proof of whose aspiration for a just and lasting peace I had from Baghdad to Mossoul, after so many years of suffering and humiliation, a suffering for which the universal Church and the Pope have always shown themselves to be in solidarity.

Q; How can a climate of confidence be established concretely within Iraq and how can foreign countries trust Iraq?

Cardinal Etchegaray: I have not come as a politician; my task is not to prepare concrete actions, but I am convinced that, at this moment, it is fundamental to restore a climate of trust — basis of all the efforts that are being made.

The reconstruction of confidence is a great work, and requires time; it begins with little gestures. Moreover, it is important to have confidence in the work of the United Nations inspectors.

Q: You have wished that «a place be given again to Iraq in the international community.» Does this mean that, if the disarmament of Iraq is concluded and verified, the Holy See will request an end to the embargo?

Cardinal Etchegaray: Without a doubt. But it is not I who say it; the Pope has spoken out several times against the embargo.

Q: Don’t you think that to stress the sufferings of people ends by serving as an excuse for what are the regime’s responsibilities?

Cardinal Etchegaray: It might be but, given a population that has suffered so many years to survive, one cannot speak of excuses; there are no excuses.

Q: Therefore, what is the priority?

Cardinal Etchegaray: On behalf of the Pope, I wish to appeal to the conscience of all those who, in these decisive days, can influence the future of peace. Because in the end, it is conscience that will have the last word, stronger than all strategies, all ideologies and also all religions.

Q: Demonstrations, debates, prayer vigils for peace are multiplying in these days. Is a new awareness arising in world public opinion about peace?

Cardinal Etchegaray: The world needs gestures that express the desire for peace. I think it is necessary that public opinion influence the decision of the men who have responsibility, but it is necessary that it be a well-formed and informed opinion, because there is — I speak in general — the danger of manipulations.

A well-formed and informed public opinion is a necessary condition, although not sufficient, for peace. The Iraqi people have a natural goodness of spirit, but after two wars and the embargo they have been knocked in all aspects of their life, and do not have the possibility to be informed.

Q: Your visit, which has been primarily pastoral, ends [today]. What kind of Church did you find in Iraq?

Cardinal Etchegaray: A Church that is alive and profoundly affectionate with the Pope. In few parts of the world is there such a contagious feeling, almost palpable, for a Vatican representative — an affection that stems from the complex situation of a minority that lives seeking unity with Rome.

Moreover, after the two-day visit to Mossoul, I would like to stress its ecumenical aspect. An ecumenism made of concrete solidarity between Catholics and Orthodox: On Sunday they exchange churches and the two communities help one another financially to construct their buildings of worship. It is something admirable that must be stressed.

Q: Are you concerned about the fate of Iraqi Christians?

Cardinal Etchegaray: Here, Christians are Iraqis above all, and they will suffer the same condition as the rest of the country. With the exception of rare cases of intolerance between Muslims and Christians, on the whole there is osmosis in daily life. Christians are considered as authentic Iraqis and they will follow their country’s fate.

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